Israel banishes Palestinians from own town

Sarah Benhaida
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Samer Abu Eisheh (L) and Hijazi Abu Sbeih, Palestinians from Jerusalem, installed tents at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the city, defying a military order banning them from entering their hometown for months

Samer Abu Eisheh (L) and Hijazi Abu Sbeih, Palestinians from Jerusalem, installed tents at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the city, defying a military order banning them from entering their hometown for months (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israel has detained two Palestinian men who refused to heed a military expulsion order from their hometown of Jerusalem over unspecified security concerns, in what rights groups slam as collective punishment.

"It's the city where I was born, where I have all my memories," said 28-year-old freelance journalist Samer Abu Eisheh, who was given a five-month expulsion order.

Construction worker Hijazi Abu Sbeih, 33, who has a wife and three young children, was banished for six months.

Both men live in the walled Old City of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

They refused to obey the ban and were arrested at a protest camp they had set up at the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Jerusalem.

The order was based on a rarely used emergency statute from 1945, when Britain ruled Palestine prior to Israel's establishment in 1948. It was often used against clandestine Jewish groups battling the British.

Expulsions are among punitive measures criticised by rights groups that also include the demolition of Palestinian attackers' homes and detention without trial of suspects.

According to Palestinian rights group Addameer, seven Palestinians received such orders in 2015, and as many each year since 2011 for varying time periods.

Addameer calls it "collective punishment in violation of international law" and a measure aimed at "emptying Jerusalem of its Palestinian residents".

The letters Israeli authorities sent Abu Eisheh and Abu Sbeih in December say the pair pose "a danger" to security.

A map is attached showing where the men were permitted to relocate for the duration of the ban.

The Shin Bet domestic security agency told AFP the pair were among "a certain number of terrorist activists" who have been given such orders, without providing further details.

It linked their expulsions to the Palestinian knife, gun and car-ramming attacks that have targeted Israelis since October.

The two men say they have never been convicted for terrorism or any other violent crime and can only guess at the details of the accusations against them.

Abu Eisheh was sentenced to nearly two months of house arrest by Israel in 2015 after taking part in Arab forums in Lebanon, an Israeli enemy, and believes his expulsion is a result of his activism.

Abu Sbeih says he can't explain the decision to ban him.

- 'I will not leave' -

After arresting the men on January 6, Israeli authorities offered to free them on bail and then expel them from Jerusalem, their relatives said, but they refused.

Abu Eisheh, who spoke to AFP at the Red Cross office before his arrest, said that he would do whatever possible to "complicate the task" of expelling him.

"Whatever happens, I will continue to say no," said the young man with a carefully cropped beard. "No to banishment, no to racism, no to the occupation."

Abu Sbeih spoke in similar terms, saying "I will not leave my land to the occupier. It is them who must leave, not me."

Beyond human rights concerns, such orders also further stoke Palestinian suspicions over Israel's intentions in east Jerusalem.

The Jewish state sees all of the city as its indivisible capital, while Palestinians see mainly Arab east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community. Israeli settlements have since expanded there.

According to the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem, over the past 15 years the Palestinian cultural and political presence in the eastern sector of the city has been considerably reduced.

Around 30 Palestinian institutions have been closed, in many cases after Israel alleged they were affiliated with the Palestinian Authority, which is prohibited from activities in Jerusalem.

Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have "permanent resident" status, in which they "are required to pay all Israeli taxes, entitled to receive Israeli social benefits and travel documents, and can participate in Israeli municipal but not national elections," the coalition says.

It notes that east Jerusalem Palestinians cannot automatically pass on Jerusalem residency to their children or bring their relatives to the city.

Permanent resident status can also be revoked, with Israeli authorities having done so for more than 14,400 Palestinians in nearly 50 years.